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Dale Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, was satisfied with his 16th-place finish. He held pat at ninth in points, but still needs good finishes at Atlanta and Richmond to ensure his first Chase berth since 2008.

“We struggled all night, really, trying to get a good car,” Earnhardt said. “We were just slow. We didn’t have enough grip. Just sliding around a whole lot. Thankful to finish where we did.”

Same goes for Hamlin, who nearly took the title from Johnson last year but has been a strong championship contender this year. His crash last week at Michigan dropped him to 14th in the standings and forced him into conservative mode to save his season.

But he’s been plagued by bad luck this season, and Saturday was no different when Menard ran into him to create considerable damage to the back of his Joe Gibbs Racing car. Crew chief Mike Ford was methodical as he dictated the repairs Hamlin needed and the time the crew had to complete the work, and Hamlin managed to stay on the lead lap.

He eventually rallied to a seventh-place finish _ his first top-10 in five races.

Hamlin moved up to 13th in the standings, and would be the second wild card right now by virtue of his one victory this season.

“I feel a lot better,” he said. “It’s been a while since we’ve completed a race and been able to finish where we’re capable of finishing. We got hit and spun and I was like ‘Of course, it’s our luck.’ But we were able to make something of it and battle back.”